There’s nothing quite like wrapping your hands around a warm cup o’ joe in the fall. With Mexican spiced java and house-made almond milk cappuccinos, this season’s best coffee shops will keep you well caffeinated without a drop of pumpkin spice. (Yes, it’s possible. We promise.) Here’s where to go and what to order now that autumn is upon us:
What’s up: Cora Lambert and Erik Becker’s spare sliver of a café—which started as a pop-up at Tribeca’s Maslow 6 in 2013— packs plenty of coffee-perk geekery into its 400 square feet. Gadgets on display include a pricey VST coffee refractometer, which measures concentration of coffee solids, and a custom, one-of-a-kind Synesso Hydra espresso machine, rigged with actuators and playfully nicknamed Gibson Girl.
What’s good: The thoughtful, selective menu boasts well-respected roasters like San Francisco’s Ritual and Michigan’s MadCap, served a la carte or as a java flight like the 1+1 ($4.50). The barista favorite splits one double shot of espresso in two: a straight espresso and a milk-lightened macchiato, served alongside a glass of seltzer and a house-made graham cracker. 115 St. Mark’s Pl between First Ave and Ave A (212-574-8201, boxkitenyc.com)
What’s up: Aside from the scent of good coffee wafting throughout the space, the first thing you’ll notice about this Australian café from Melbourne native Alex Hall (Milk Bar, Bluebird) is the angles. (Not surprisingly, Hall is an architect’s son). The capacious space, all exposed brick and natural light, rivals a design store with its bold triangular pegboards, shelves of spiky potted succulents and eye-catching lamps shaped like origami paper mouths.
What’s good: Counter Culture coffees are poured as cortados ($3.50), flat whites ($4) and macchiatos ($3.25) with surgical precision, but while java’s the focus, the food is no afterthought. For a standout “brekkie” to go with your brew, opt for avocado toast with whipped feta ($9), eggs benedict with “almondaise” and house-made coconut Anzac biscuits. 144 Decatur St between Lewis Ave and Marcus Garvey Blvd, Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn (347-404-6832, brunswickcafe.com)
What’s up: Stumptown vet Elliot Rayman and partner Crystal Pei serve plenty of Scandinavia at their ambitious but understated Greenpoint café. Along with their coffee lineup, the sleek, mixed-wood space is rigged with a retail area stocked with Icelandic sweaters, Norwegian lotion and even lava salt.
What’s good: Imported cups include kaffe from Sweden’s Drop Coffee and Tim Wendelboe’s Oslo microbrewery. But the head turner is the luxe $10 lakkris latte, made with beans roasted in Norway and tinged with raw licorice powder from Denmark. 114 Greenpoint Ave between Franklin and Manhattan Sts, Greenpoint, Brooklyn (347-844-9639, budin-nyc.com)
El Rey Coffee Bar & Luncheonette
What’s up: The coastal California vibes of this chilled-out Lower East Side café from Nick Morgenstern (Morgenstern’s Finest), replete with a blond-wood bar and pops of aqua neon, is the influence of its San Diego–bred chef Gerardo Gonzalez.
What’s good: The stools-only, outlet-free spot doesn’t have a stay-awhile vibe, but the Mexican iced mocha ($3.75) on draft is alone worth a pop-in. Spiced with chili flakes and cinnamon, Counter Culture black coffee is topped with sweetened condensed milk, and capped with Mexican chocolate and fresh mint. 100 Stanton St between Ludlow and Orchard Sts (212-260-3950, elreynyc.com)
What’s up: Named after fashion slang from Japan’s Jazz Age, haikara, this thoughtful, 13-stool café from restaurateur Bon Yagi (Sakagura, Soba-ya) takes cues from the country’s kissaten, back-alley tearooms that serve coffee, sandwiches and other light bites. The East-meets-West digs include Art Nouveau lighting and shoji sliding panels behind the bar.
What’s good: The menu is also a culture-crossed mash-up, with Porto Rico and Counter Culture blends served via pour-over ($3.80), AeroPress ($4.80) or siphon ($5.80) in traditional Japanese tea-ceremony china. Offset tea-time cucumber sandwiches with layered Osaka-style omelettes ($6.50) and fluffy Japanese hotcakes ($6.50). 214 E 10th St between First and Second Aves (212-777-7018, hi-collar.com)
Marlton Espresso Bar
What’s up: Tucked inside the lobby of the Marlton Hotel, this tiny coffee counter is rigged like a gentleman’s study: ornate walnut moldings, oversize Oriental rugs and a working fireplace bookended by red-leather club chairs, an apt setting to crack open your latest read.
What’s good: Baristas brew grounds solely from Chicago-born roaster Ferndell, churning out macchiatos ($3) and drip coffee ($3). You can get a cappuccino ($6) lightened with house-made raw almond milk, but don’t expect any frills. There are no flavored syrups or fancy garnishes—just retro-packaged coffee with a good head of foam. Marlton Hotel, 5 W 8th St between Fifth and Sixth Aves (212-321-0111, marltonhotel.com)
What’s up: East Village vet Vito DiTomaso (Luca Lounge) made a return engagement to Avenue B with this subway-tiled java haunt, kitted out with plush leather sofas, a roaring fake fireplace and, oh, yeah, a beer-and-bourbon speakeasy hidden behind sliding barn doors in the back.
What’s good: Fuel up before work with perfectly foamed Brooklyn Roasting Company cappuccinos ($2.50)—in-house refills are only a buck—and Balthazar pastries, then pop back in post–9-to-5 to survey the 16 lines of quality local suds, including Coney Island Seas the Day IPL and Empire’s Amber Ale. 222 Ave B between 13th and 14th Sts (646-918-6700, theroostnyc.com)
What’s up: At this Down Under java joint, Aussie expats Henry Roberts and Giles Russell dedicate a large wall to framed prints from local photographers. The Wi-Fi isn’t free, but you can camp out at natural-wood studio tables, where you’ll find room to spread a sketchbook or portfolio amid clay pots of cacti.
What’s good: The flat white ($3.50) is the most well-known of Australian coffees, but the shop’s true darling is the $5 Outback cap. Served alongside chocolate-covered Tim Tam cookies, the espresso is dusted in cocoa powder, which rises to the top of the intricate fern-patterned foam head. 164 Mott St between Broome and Grand Sts (no phone yet, twohandsnyc.com)
Written by Christina Izzo and Rheanna O’Neil Bellomo